Recent controversy on the fate of the Lines Orchids property in Walden has been in the news. Exactly what and where is Lines Orchids and why did orchids come to be grown on Signal Mountain?
Let’s start with the who. John Oliver Lines and his father, Oliver, reassembled two greenhouses they moved from Pennsylvania and established Lines Orchids on Taft Highway in 1947. John and his father were successful with their beautiful cattleyas, phaleanopsis and other varieties of orchids. The greenhouse shelves became stacked with silver trophies awarded to Lines Orchids internationally for its hybridizations. The Lines’ family business, later headed by Joan Lines McCandless and Scott McCandless, grew into a landmark.
As a young businessman and father, John had seen that the mountain population was dependent upon wells for water. This situation was not good for growing orchids, but, more importantly, it was not good for the health of his family and his neighbors. He understood that wells with privies nearby were not good for anyone.
Along with Dr. J. Livingston White, Sherman Paul and Henry Ireland, he worked to bring “city water” to the mountain. Together, they solicited subscriptions to everyone they could reach, and they founded the Walden’s Ridge Utility District (WRUD). They drilled new wells in the valley to tap a clean aquifer and bring fresh water to the ridge in the 1950s.
The Civic League, headquartered in what is now know as the Mountain Opry building, had been critically instrumental in solving the water situation. Formed in the Depression years, the Civic League helped farmers, laborers, merchants and landowners all come together for fellowship, education, medical aid, politics and entertainment. To help sustain the organization, John Lines took on the responsibility of leading the Civic League.
During the years when every woman felt incompletely dressed for important social occasions without an orchid corsage, John built a successful business and began to prosper financially. Always socially conscious, he and his wife, Gladys, wanted to give back. They contributed generously to their church, Signal Mountain Presbyterian, and donated the large rose window prominent in the sanctuary.
When the Town of Walden was formed in 1975, the boundary was to run along Taft Highway. John Lines asked that his property be included inside the town so that his business taxes would go toward sustaining the new little government. Today, a look at the tax map shows a bulge to the west of Taft Highway that neatly includes the Lines Orchids property.
John’s early involvement with WRUD made him acutely aware of the danger from fire to homes that relied only on wells. If a house caught fire, neighbors would all rush to help the family carry out their belongings. It was all a neighbor could do. Putting out a house fire was next to impossible. Walden’s Ridge Emergency Service was not yet in existence, but John Lines saw a need and gave the land where a new fire facility could be built. Today, WRES stands on that property and is now able to expand because of the legacy of John Lines. Also, not to be ignored by any means, is the fact that John O. Lines Jr. devoted the greater part of his life to serving as a volunteer with that same emergency service.
As Walden grew and folks began to talk about building a “real” town hall, John Lines gave the Town another piece of property. That land lies along Taft Highway between Fairmount Orchards and The Bread Basket. Though the Town Hall was eventually built in another location, the Lines’ gift is an asset that can still be used to the benefit of Walden.
As to the “why” and “how” of orchids on Signal Mountain, it all began with a 14-year-old boy working in a renowned greenhouse in England. Oliver Lines was fascinated by orchids. Today the Royal Horticultural Society registers 40,000 orchid types world-wide, more than any other plant species.
Oliver Lines was brought to the United States in 1910 at age 25 to grow orchids for the Cooley collection. In 1921, the American Orchid Society was formed, and young Oliver was made a trustee, a role he continued for 44 years. Oliver became known as “The Dean” of orchid growers soon after winning three gold medals at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. In 1945, the industry’s highest honor, the American Orchid Society’s gold medal for lifetime achievement, was presented to Oliver Lines.
Oliver moved from employer to employer, collection to collection, always hybridizing and improving the lines. During the Great Depression, he began selling his employer’s orchids commercially so the collection could survive difficult economic times. Oliver’s dogged perseverance kept the cultivars of century-old delicate roots alive.
As a thank you for all of his hard work and success, Oliver was given two greenhouses and plants from the Cooley collection. It was those two greenhouses in Pennsylvania that John and Oliver reassembled on Signal Mountain because of their love of orchids.
All of us on Walden’s Ridge should be grateful to the legacy of Oliver and John Oliver Lines. We regret that Lines Orchids has left our mountain, and we wish them well in their new location.
by Karen Stone